The Arizona legislature is presently considering SB 1143, a bill that would help ensure that key legal protections from antisemitic crime and discrimination are properly provided to Jewish victims. As a general rule, Arizona Jewish Life Magazine does not weigh in on political affairs. Though it might be suggested this editorial is a departure for us, the truth is the overwhelming urgency of the matter from a practical and policy standpoint is our paramount concern.
Like all Jewish communal institutions, Arizona Jewish Life Magazine exists within a sad reality in which antisemitism is a constant concern. Our staff have been targeted multiple times over the years- not as much for our politics or religious beliefs, but for the mere fact of our Jewish identity. Just two weeks ago the FBI arrested a neo-Nazi ring that threatened our editor at her very home. We know antisemitism.
Adopting a Definition of Antisemitism is Needed by Jewish Arizonans
At its outset, Senate Bill 1143 set a record as the single most sponsored piece of bi-partisan legislation in Arizona history, with a total of 84 out of 90 legislators from the House and Senate signed on. Its House companion bill, HB2683, already passed with strong bipartisan support by a margin of 52 to 8. Up until the launching of an ‘intimidation by misinformation’ campaign by several extremist groups this week SB 1143 was poised to do the same at the Senate.
SB 1143 is straight forward. It seeks to codify an objective definition of contemporary antisemitism (Jew-hatred) to be used by state officials when investigating and tracking crime and discrimination. The expertly-developed definition is known as the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) Working Definition. As the consensus international standard it has already been adopted by the US Departments of State, Justice and Education as well as dozens of other countries around the World.
Bill Opponents are Turning Anti-Semitism into a Partisan Issue and Denying Jews Equal Protection
A coalition of extremists and fringe political groups are targeting Senate Democrats with a misinformation campaign aimed at turning antisemitism into a partisan issue and scaring them off from further supporting the bill. Given that combatting antisemitism remains an explicitly stated priority among all members of our legislature, we believe it is critical to clarify the purpose, nature, and function of this bill for our readership so that you may in turn take supportive civic action.
A superb practical explanation of SB 1143 was recently provided by the prime bill sponsors – Representative Alma Hernandez (D) and Senate President Karen Fann (R). With their permission we are reprinting the following:
March 11, 2020
It has come to our attention that in recent days a concerted disinformation campaign has been waged to misrepresent SB 1143. Conversations with colleagues and constituents have further made it clear to us that those misrepresentations have led to material misunderstandings of the bill among some legislators and community members.
For example, we have seen Facebook posts urging people to call Arizona Senator Sean Bowie (LD18) to urge him to vote no on SB 1143 because allegedly, “This bill could make publicly criticizing the State of Israel evidence that you’ve committed a hate crime under Arizona law.” This is patently false on multiple levels and is incendiary, as are several other claims being made. These will all be addressed below.
Given that combatting antisemitism remains an explicitly stated priority among all members of our legislature, we would like to objectively clarify the purpose, nature, and function of this bill in order to dispel the misrepresentations being promoted in order to maintain the nearly unanimous bi-partisan support of the bill that has been expressed up to now. We note with pride that SB 1143’s mirror bill, HB2683, passed through the House with strong bipartisan support, 52 to 8.
- This legislation’s only function is to provide state officials with an objective definition of contemporary antisemitism that is needed to ensure proper assessment of criminal and discriminatory incidents that may be motivated by antisemitism.
- A critical barrier to addressing the present crisis of antisemitic crime and discrimination is the fact that Jews don’t solely fit into a religion-based classification. This legislation clarifies the application of Arizona’s already existing classifications to Jewish persons. The suggestion that this legislation somehow creates a “new” protected class for antisemitism is a flat out lie. Jews, as well as Sikhs and Muslims, are protected both as a religion and as a group bearing shared ancestral and ethnic characteristics (national origin). The Arizona Fraternal Order of Police are strongly supporting this legislation because it provides state authorities with a definitional tool needed to enable officials to objectively recognize and determine what constitutes national origin discrimination in certain instances.
- The IHRA Definition of Antisemitism that this legislation would implement already serves as the consensus standard among dozens of developed nations with Jewish populations. This same definition is embraced by our federal government and is utilized by the U.S. Departments of Education, Justice, and State. There is nothing vague or indefinite about this definition, and none of the countries that have adopted it have had any trouble figuring out how to implement it. There is no valid reason for Arizona to reject such a well-established standard.
- Rejecting this consensus definition of contemporary antisemitism, particularly by suggesting that Jews ought to only be protected as a religion, would represent a harmful undermining of equal protection for victims of antisemitism and would effectively remove material legal protections that Democrats and Republicans have already agreed applies to Jews. Incidents of antisemitic crime and discrimination risk being unaddressed and underreported unless Jews are protected both as a religion and as a national origin group bearing shared ancestral and ethnic characteristics.
- This legislation has been narrowly tailored so that it only applies to criminal and discriminatory CONDUCT, which are not protected by the First Amendment. It does not penalize or restrict anyone’s right to free expression. In fact, the legislation explicitly states that “Nothing contained in this bill is to be construed to diminish or infringe upon any right protected under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.” It is critical to note that one memo being circulated falsely conflates unlawful discriminatory behavior by students with their constitutional right to free expression. Only the former is affected by this legislation.
- It has also been falsely alleged that the “The overbroad [IHRA] definition of anti-Semitism incorrectly equates constitutionally protected criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism, effectively chilling free speech.” That the opposite is true is clear from the text of SB 1143, which states in Section 1:Y:3 that, “ANTI‑SEMITISM DOES NOT INCLUDE CRITICISM OF ISRAEL SIMILAR TO THAT LEVELED AGAINST ANY OTHER COUNTRY.”
- It is incorrect and dishonest to suggest that Arizona’s law regulating against state financial involvement with parties that engage in antisemitic commercial boycotts of Israel was struck down on a First Amendment basis. In fact, our Arizona law remains fully in force, a matter that was upheld by the Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit in December.
- Contrary to some claims being made, this bill is not about litigating any conflict abroad. It is about protecting Jewish citizens from crime and discrimination at home.
We hope that any confusion that has circulated over recent days has been thoroughly dispelled by this clarification. We remain confident that a strong bi-partisan majority of Arizona’s legislature wishes to join in rejecting antisemitism at this critical time.
Thank you for standing with us.
President Karen Fann
Representative Alma Hernandez
Calling Arizonans to Action
- Contact Democrat senators being pressured – Tell them Arizona’s Jewish community supports SB 1143, the bill to define antisemitism, and ask them for their commitment to vote ‘Yes.’ (You can find their phone numbers here: azleg.gov/MemberRoster
- Ask your synagogue/rabbi to sign on to the Community Coalition Letter by contacting Jake Bennett at email@example.com.
- Forward this article to all your friends and neighbors, not just fellow Jews. Ask them to approach their Churches and community groups and request that they sign the Community Coalition Letter in solidarity.